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Published: 2011/02/09
by Brian Robbins

Steady As She Goes With Jack Casady (The Tuna Is Hotter Than Ever Part II)

Photo by Vernon Webb

It’s impressive enough that the “official” history of Hot Tuna as a living, breathing band begins in 1969. The fact of the matter is, you can actually trace Tuna’s roots back another 11 years – as 1958 marks the first time that bassist Jack Casady and guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen played music together … and plugged in or unplugged, there’s no Hot Tuna without Jack and Jorma. While the band’s roster (and sound) has grown and shrunk (and grown and shrunk) over the years as many talented players have shared the Tuna experience, the one constant has been Jack and Jorma’s long-standing friendship.

2011 sees Hot Tuna fired-up and sounding better than ever. The present core line-up of Casady, Kaukonen, mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, and drummer Skoota Warner will be touring the US beginning in late January, followed by the release of a new studio album (the first in 20 years) in April.

Jambands.com recently had the chance to talk with both Jorma and Jack about their new album (_Steady As She Goes_, to be released 4/12/11 on Red House Records) and the current version of Electric Hot Tuna on the eve of their tour. You can read Part I with Jorma Kaukonen here.

Part II – Jack Casady

For having been aware of Jack Casady and his music for a good portion of my natural life, I don’t know as I’ve ever actually heard his voice, whether it be on a recording or in a live setting. (Anything I’ve ever witnessed him say to Jorma Kaukonen onstage has been totally off-mic.) The fact of the matter is, the acknowledged master of the womp, the groove, and the lower frequencies has always let his bass do the talking. So just getting to have a conversation with Jack was a major treat (he speaks!) – his humor and passion for everything from his wife to his music to displaced box turtles was an unexpected Crackerjack bonus. In short, it was a lot of fun.

After some preliminaries covering our respective weather situations (it hit a high of zero on the thermometer here in Maine while we were talking; I don’t remember if Jack quoted a California temp, but I’m pretty sure it was warmer than that), we dove into things.

BR: First of all, Jack: Jorma sends you his best and says he’ll see you day after tomorrow.

JC: Day after … yes, that’s true. (laughs)

BR: Looking back to when the two of you first began playing together, do you remember thinking that you’d still be making music when you were 66?

JC: Oh, absolutely. I don’t know what it is anyone thinks I’m doing out here in this world, but I’m a musician – I wasn’t a “rock star” trying to die before I was 30, you know?

My heroes are people like Les Paul – doing what he loved into his 90s. Musicians like Shostakovich … or Stravinsky. There’s a guy who worked until he dropped late in life. He was well into his 80s … and I figure on doing the same – at least.

I’ve never not thought that, you know? I mean, it’s a different culture when you’re a musician. All the bluegrass, all the country musicians I knew when I was growing up … people like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs – who I thought were ancient when they were in their 40s, of course – Bill Monroe, all those guys … you just assume that they play better when they get older. Their life’s work is music and they keep accumulating material and working on their craft.

BR: I did an interview a couple of months ago with Jesse McReynolds, who’s been playing bluegrass all his life. Jesse just released an album of Grateful Dead songs after basically discovering their music at the age of 80 … and it sounds great.

JC: Life is about discovery, you know? When I was growing up in Washington, DC, my way of discovering the music that wasn’t on the radio was to hop a bus and ride to the Library of Congress. I’d go into the music department, sign out records, and go into one of those little listening booths with my stack of 78s and listen to all kinds of music from around the world. When I got a little older – 13 or 14 – I’d go to record stores where the cut-out bins were … you could buy records for a quarter apiece or something like that. Often they didn’t even have covers on them. I’d save up money from my lawn-cutting business and my newspaper route and haul this stuff back home – not even knowing what I had half the time – and listen to music from everywhere.

I think it’s the nature of young people to want to discover, to want to know more … and now, of course, everybody has their own “Library of Congress” with the internet. You lose some of that physical aspect of handling a nice, big ol’ 12” LP, but you can explore in so many other ways.

BR: I’m still a sucker for the hands-on format. I love liner notes. I love album art.

JC: Well, it’s funny you should mention that …

BR: I sense a segue … (laughter)

JC: Because it just so happens that Hot Tuna – a partnership of Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady – has just finished recording our first studio album in 20 years, full of new and varied material that goes in all directions. Our label, Red House Records, has suggested that we put this album out in vinyl format as well as in CD and download formats. So there’s something that will please those audiophiles out there who love the sound of vinyl and the feel of a record.

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Todd E February 13, 2011, 17:18:26

Jack was especially amazing (as was Jorma, natch) at the Beacon shows in December celebrating Jorma’s 70th b-day. For the first time that I can recall for many years, he had his Versatone amp as part of his rig—the amp that drove his classic distorted/growling Jack Casady sound from the classic Airplane and old Hot Tuna days. Jack is still amazing!

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